Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Soviet Gulags


For millions of Soviet citizens, a Gulag sentence represented a one-way journey to oblivion. Yet millions more went there and came back. This revolving door of Stalin’s Gulag presents historians with a number of challenges. First, it complicates the task of determining exactly how many Soviet citizens experienced Stalin’s Gulag. Any single annual figure on the number of prisoners provides only a snapshot and fails to capture the presence of a revolving door (Alexopoulos, 2006). Gulags were aimed at the physical destruction of enemies of the Bolshevik state and system (Supady, 2000). One of the main goals of the Soviet leadership was to destroy personal ties among private citizens and create an atmosphere of distrust and fear. Ordinary citizens were bombarded by propaganda which provided a constant reminder that they were surrounded by enemies and that vigilance was needed by all. People were encouraged to denounce enemies whenever they felt there was a threat (Hosford et al., 2007). According to Applebaum (2004), nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union’s labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. 

In his famous book “The Gulag Archipelago” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes…

...........  “In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

 Tchernavin (1935) disclosed the horrifying nature of the Soviet Gulag system in the following manner.

...  ……Picture a group of about forty prisoners, men, and women, all worn out, hungry, eaten by lice, suffering from swollen legs from long-standing—people who have not slept for many nights. Single file we were led into a big room with three or four desks, and at each desk was an examining officer. Then comes another room and more examining officers, a corridor, stairs, and more rooms with more examining officers. At the command “at a run” we had to run from one desk to another. And as we approached each desk the examining officer would start shouting at us in the vilest language imaginable …This sort of torture lasts from ten to twelve hours. Examining officers go away and rest; they get tired of sitting and shouting obscenities and so are relieved by others, but the prisoners have to keep on running.

 Dougherty (2001) interviewed Seven Russians who survived Stalin’s purges. They did exhibit symptoms sufficient to qualify as partial PTSD and those exposed to human remains suffer more symptoms of PTSD.

( From the book " PTSD in the Soviet Union " by Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge) 

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